Part Three Bento Lunches: What to Pack 

So you have read my previous post and made a pledge to pack healthy lunches this year. (You can make an official pledge at Power Your Lunchbox for coupons, free printables and prizes!) You have purchased an awesome lunchbox and maybe some fun tools to use but now you are feeling a little lost about what to put in them (Check out my lunchbox tools post here) No worries, I have composed for you a list of my go to foods for lunches!

 Proteins

  • Deli meats
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned chicken
  • Meatballs (I always have a bag of frozen meatballs on hand)
  • Hard boiled eggs or egg salad
  • Falafel (I get these frozen at Trader Joe’s)
  • Sunbutter (or nut butter if your school allows it.)
  • Sausage links or patties
  • Veggie burgers
  • Hummus

Grains

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Pasta salad (Have you seen the adorable shaped pastas that World Market carries?!)
  • Pita
  • Whole grain bread
  • Wraps
  • Bagel thins
  • Plantain chips
  • Crackers: my favorites are Annie’s Homegrown, Special K multigrain, Trader Joe’s Edamame, pita chips and pretzel thins
  • Popcorn
  • Cereal

Dairy

  • All natural sliced cheese (great for cutting into shapes!)
  • Cheese sticks
  • Babybel cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

Vegetables (Raw)

  • Carrots
  • Bell Peppers and mini sweets
  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Snap peas
  • Jicama
  • Lettuces
  • Tomatoes (grape and cherry)
  • Cucumbers
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Zucchini and yellow squash

Vegetables (cooked) 

  • Carrots*
  • Bell peppers*
  • Green beans*
  • Peas*
  • Corn*
  • Edamame*
  • Succotash*
  • Butternut and acorn squash
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Broccoli*
  • Cauliflower*
  • Greens (Kale, collard, mustard)
  • Dr Praeger’s broccoli and spinach little bites (Whole Foods)

*I keep bags of these veggies frozen at all times and just pack a serving as I need them. I often just let them defrost and serve without heating, especially corn and peas!


Fruit (fresh)

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Clementines or tangerines
  • Plums, pluots, plumcots
  • Melons
  • Berries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes

Fruit (frozen)

  • Berries*
  • Peaches
  • Mangoes
  • Pineapple

*Frozen berries work great to mix in with yogurt or to make a smoothie but do not hold up in the defrosting process to serve as your main fruit!

Fruit (canned in 100% juice) 

  • Oranges
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Apricots

Treats

  • Cookies: my favorites are School house cookies and yogurt shaped stars from Trader Joe’s, Annie’s Homegrown animal crackers and Bitsy’s Brain Food Alphabet cookies (found at Target and Kroger)
  • Cookie butter (Trader Joe’s)
  • Dips: ranch, ketchup, BBQ sauce
  • Chocolate chips
  • Dried fruits

Most often when people say they can’t pack bento lunches they site two main reasons.

  1. It wastes food. The only food I waste is the crusts of bread. As do millions of moms who cut the crusts off of their children’s sandwiches! But you could even save these and make bread crumbs from them. When I cut cheese and vegetables I most often put those leftovers in my own lunch for the next day. You could easily use veggies for soups or stock and save cheese to top casseroles.
  2. It costs too much. I can just about guarantee that the lunch I packed is cheaper than buying a lunch able. And certainly healthier. However, one thing to keep in mind when you shop. Always buy in season! You will pretty much never see me pack peaches in the middle of winter unless they are frozen. Also buy small quantities of items. Yes, I may pack 3 fruits for my daughter each day between breakfast, lunch and a snack. However, when I buy bananas I only buy 3-4 at a time for the week and 1-2 apples and pack her a quarter on an apple and take the rest for myself.

What are some of your go to lunch items that you pack for yourself or your kids??? I would love to add to my own collection!

Happy Packing and come check me out on Instagram @hollyamethyst for more lunch ideas and come back here soon for some fun holiday lunch ideas!

Holly

Part Two Bento Lunches: Supplies

So you read my last post about WHY we should pack lunches and you’re considering starting to make bento lunches. Now it is time to figure out what supplies or #momtoys work best. First and foremost, I feel the need to say that this post is not sponsored. I am a brand representative for FunBites but other than that I have purchased (or been gifted!) all of the tools and supplies that I recommend. 🙂

Boxes:

Yumbox: This is my go to for efficient packing that still looks good. Yumboxes are leakproof, portion controlled boxes created for kids. You can put applesauce in a container and not worry about your crackers getting soggy!! GENIUS! It also keeps apples, bananas and avocados from browning. For real. It really works. Promise. I literally cannot say one bad thing about my Yumbox. It was the first bento supply I purchased for Grace and I still use it a few times a week and it remains in great shape. They have released a new style (the Panino) that has room for a full sandwich or small salad that is a little better portioned for adults. I am able to pack a Yumbox in no time. 

 Easy Lunchboxes: I also use my Easy Lunchboxes all the time. These are priced so well and the size is bigger. I use Easy Lunchboxes for my own lunch about 3 days out of the week. The containers are not leakproof so you don’t want to pack wet items like yogurt or applesauce in there unless you KNOW it is not going to get turned upside down. Grace is still young enough that I carry her lunch bag to the kitchen in her day care and it goes directly in the fridge so I am able to worry about that a little less. I like Easy Lunchboxes because they are a little bigger and when I want to do more food art type sandwiches or lunch themes I have a little room. 

 Other popular bento boxes are Bentgo Fresh and Planetboxes. I have heard great things about both and see them in use A LOT but have never used them myself.

Cutters:

Cute Z Cute Animal Cutters: These are probably my most used set of sandwich cutters. It is a kit that comes with a frog, panda, pig and cat. You can make an adorable sandwich in no time. I do use low calorie bread and have found that it does not always come out as neatly as I would like.

FunBites: As a brand rep, I do receive their cutters. However, I can honestly say, I love this thing. It is super cute to make a quick sandwich and is very versatile in what you can create with the shapes. Currently, they have a heart shaped, squares and triangles option. It is pretty sturdy and dishwasher safe, too. 

 Wilton’s Cookie Cutters: If you are looking to get a great variety for holidays and all seasons on the cheap, I would recommend the 101 cookie cutter set from Wilton. This is going to give you numbers, letters, shapes and tons of seasonal options. You get what you pay for with this set. They are not very thick or sturdy but will be fine to use on bread or thinly sliced cheese.

Biscuit Cutters: I also have a set of 5 round biscuit cutters that I use to make a lot of my sandwiches and then add my own details. These are very versatile as we use them pretty regularly for cooking.

Fondant Cutters/Vegetable cutters: For all the details or small pieces that you see in my lunches I will use fondant or vegetable cutters. I am on the lookout every holiday for sets at places like Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. My favorite to use was my ABC set that I sadly lost some time ago and can’t find ANYWHERE in my kitchen. (Don’t ask me about bento organization, I clearly have none 😦 )

Miscellaneous:

Silicone molds: Silicone molds are fun to add details to lunches. Be on the lookout for the different shaped silicone ice cube trays or candy molds. These are also found in the holiday sections of stores and with cake and candy decorations. I like to put canned pumpkin in my pumpkin molds, freeze it and pop one out to add to yogurt or oatmeal in the fall.

Silicone cups: A must if you are going to pack a bento that would have both warm and cold foods. If I am packing Grace a Yumbox and pack her leftover chicken and also grapes I will put the chicken in a silicone cupcake mold in the compartment of the box so her daycare can just pop the silicone cup in the microwave. These also come in tons of different colors and shapes to add a pop of color or add on to your theme.

Food Picks: I do not personally use food picks yet. This is ONLY because 1. I don’t think they will come back home from day care and 2. I don’t want Grace to poke her playmate with a food pick at the lunch table or worry one of her friends will take them and poke HER (or themselves, or their eye..) with one 🙂 I am planning on getting some for home though because food picks are hands down the quickest way to make a boring lunch cute. Packing some slices of turkey? Just roll it up and put it on a cute panda bear food pick and it INSTANTLY looks more fun with almost no effort. You can also start saving all of those cupcake ring toppers that you get on birthday cupcakes. You could have a Jake and the Neverland Pirate lunch in no time if you went to a party with this as the theme!

Tweezers! Sounds crazy, right? But so helpful for detail work. 

Sprinkles! Because they are awesome.. And pretty. 

  
I would recommend going to Amazon or All Things for Sale (a bento and baking supply company) to check out tons of adorable and dangerously affordable fondant/veggie cutters, molds and food picks.

Come back soon for my next post in this series that will give you some great ideas for what to pack in those boxes now that you have them. Also,come find me on Instagram @hollyamethyst to see all of my lunch creations (and my adorable daughter 😉 )

Do you have any bento or lunch supplies that you can’t live without???

Part One Bento Lunches: Why Pack Bento?

Can you believe it is already Back to School time??! What a better time to talk about the benefits of packing your kiddos school lunches and maybe making them fun! This will be the first in a series of posts focused on packing lunches in a fun and efficient way!


Ever since Grace was a glimmer in my eye I knew that I wanted to pack her fun lunches. I get that it is kind of my “thing” and it might not be yours. That’s okay! But let’s talk about why you might want to consider making bento lunches or just making fun lunches!

First, let’s discuss that bento is a traditional form of lunches that are popular in Japan. If you want a traditional style bento there are certain ratios of rice, veggies, proteins and the way it is set up. So I am using the term “bento” very loosely to describe my style of food art/fun food/packed lunches. Also, while I pretty much always think about making the presentation of food appealing, I don’t necessarily pack food art/theme lunches every day as you can see from Grace’s lunches. However, I do pack my daughter’s lunch EVERY. SINGLE. DAY (and breakfast and snack, too!)

Now that we have that out of the way.. Let’s discuss why we should pack our kids lunches rather than depending on our schools to provide lunches. Maybe I can convince you it isn’t quite as bad as it seems.


Why Pack a Bento?

  • It’s healthier! Have you SEEN what USDA considers healthy??! By packing a lunch I have the ability to pack in season fresh fruits and vegetables that my daughter would rarely be able to eat otherwise. I’m pretty sure I have never seen a kiwi, mango, avocado or zucchini served on a school lunch plate. Look, I GET IT! They have to serve hundreds of kids on a budget and have restricted storage space!
  • Environmentally Friendly! Did you think I was going to go through a whole post without saying something about the environment?! Maybe next time… If you use some of the lunchboxes that are out there to pack lunches for your kiddos then you can help the environment. Instead of using styrofoam plates at school or tons of plastic bags you can use a bento style container. I PROMISE YOU they will pay for themselves! Check out my post next week for my favorites 🙂
  • LEFTOVERS!! If your kiddo has access to a microwave or if you have a thermos or food that can be served cold, you can send in your leftovers from dinner, which makes packing a BREEZE.
  • You know what your kid has eaten. Maybe I am the only one that cares about this one.. But if I KNOW Grace ate all of her lunch and she only takes 2 bites at dinner, I am okay with that. If she hasn’t eaten at all the entire day I know something may be up with her. When I get her box back and half the food is in it and she asks for a snack as soon as she gets in the car, I know why.
  • Quality Control. I had a friend who was a school teacher that has told me how gross school cafeterias are. I am confident that this is not true across the board- so no shade toward you awesome school lunch workers out there! But I know exactly what is in all of the food I send in for my kiddo. I don’t have to worry about her getting moldy bread, bugs in the kitchen, mice problems, food that is undercooked, hair in the food, etc.
  • Send in a little love. I know that I need to work. I know that my daughter is well cared for at her daycare and she LOVES going. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t often think about how I wish we were together every day. Packing a cute little lunch is my way of sending my daughter a little love in the middle of the day when we have been apart for a few hours. She can open up her lunch box and it’s like a little love note from me. I’m sure she just sees a sandwich that looks like a cat, but at least she likes cats.
  • Variety. This ties in a little with the fact that it is healthier. When you pack a bento style lunch you often pack small amounts of several types of foods. That way in the event that your kiddo decided that morning that apples are the worst ever even though they ate them all day yesterday, they have other options. I will purposefully pack small amounts of things that I KNOW Grace doesn’t like and pack them over and over again in her lunch. Guess what? She has started eating her raw carrots and watermelon!
  • Creativity. This is kind of a two fold benefit. It’s fun for ME to pack fun lunches. I enjoy making Grace’s lunches cute and the challenge that I can make it. (Like my ABC lunches that have been challenging me for nearly a YEAR and I am only on “I”) There have been some EPIC fails, don’t get me wrong but I enjoy trying to get my creative juices going and seeing how amazingly creative other moms are out there. I also think that your kiddos will enjoy the creativity. Grace gets a kick out of telling me what her lunches were each day. She will look through the pictures on my phone and giggle at the different lunch themes I have made for her. It makes food fun for her too!

I hope this encourages you to start packing your kids lunches this year to give them healthy and yummy options! Come back next week and check out part two on my favorite tools to make lunch packing as quick and painless as possible. Also come check me out on Instagram @hollyamethyst for all of Grace’s lunches!